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Ríos poem makes UW grade

October 08, 2010

Since 2006, the University of Washington has been choosing a book that all freshmen are encouraged to read.

It’s called the UW Common Book. And this year, there’s an uncommon reason for Sun Devils to be interested in the Huskies’ doings: An ASU professor is involved.

For the first time, the Common Book is a poetry book, and the slim volume, titled “You Are Never Where You Are,” includes a poem by ASU Regents’ Professor of English Alberto Ríos, who also holds the Katharine C. Turner Chair in English.

In fact, the title of the book is taken from Ríos’ poem, “I Saw You Tomorrow.”

The UW’s Common Book, which is given to freshmen during orientation, is selected by a committee drawn from a variety of faculty, staff and students.

Kirsten Atik, a public information specialist in UW’s office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, who served on this year’s committee, recommended Ríos’ poem for the book.

Atik said she discovered Ríos’ poem when she was looking through a catalogue from Copper Canyon Press.

“’I Saw You Tomorrow’ is printed there and that inspired me to buy Mr. Ríos' book, ‘The Dangerous Shirt,’” she said. “I was really smitten with the poem and thought it would be a great fit for this project and am very happy the rest of the committee did, too.

“Some students on the committee suggested some lines from poems for titles of the collection and we thought ‘You Are Never Where You Are’ was intriguing and could speak to where freshmen are at that point in their lives.

“I contacted Mr. Ríos for permission to use the line for the title of the collection and was delighted that he agreed.”

Atik said the committee members “weren't familiar with Mr. Ríos' work beforehand but it's one of the happy outcomes of the project – discovering poets who are new to you.”

The 2010 Common Book includes 15 poems, including “I Saw You Tomorrow.” Other authors include Naomi Shihab Nye, Philip Levine, and Richard Hugo.

Previous Common Books included “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” by Barack Obama; “The Devil's Highway: A True Story,” by Luis Alberto Urrea; “Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change,” by Elizabeth Kolbert; and “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World,” by Tracy Kidder.

“I Saw You Tomorrow”

You’re on an airplane
In a car. You’re in a car

On the bus. You’re on the bus
Going home as you daydream

At your desk. On your desk
You have a postcard of Alaska.

You are never where you are,
And when you are, you’re leaving,

Late already for something else,
A meeting, a class, shopping,

And isn’t shopping fun, you think,
Like being on a sightseeing tour.

But you’re late and must get home,
Or you’re home and must get going,

Late either way, exasperated,
Tapping your foot to get us all

Out the door. Goodbye, you wave
To yourself, standing there.